Henry Goss Architects


BD Blog No. 2

Architect as Builder

‘Bloody architect!’ the familiar sound rings out across the building site as the plasterer grapples with another near impossible convergence of five shadow gaps with a flush door frame.  I have spent an unusually large period of time on building sites during my career in roles ranging form project architect to laborer and sometimes both.  Why does this apparent adversarial relationship between architects and builders continue?  Why do the aspirations of the architect so often conflict with the commonly applied techniques of the tradesman?

The obvious answer is that builders don’t really know what architects do but perhaps more alarmingly, many architects don’t really know what builders do. 

I can’t help thinking however that the situation was not always thus. Not wishing to appear naïve in the modern liability laden construction industry by harking back to the golden age of the master builder, but can one conceive of Wren not understanding the properties of stone when designing St Pauls?

All of my contemporary architectural heroes also understand construction intimately.  Rick Joy trained as a carpenter prior to studying architecture and Peter Zumthor asserts in his seminal publication, Thinking Architecture, that; ‘The real core of all architectural work lies in the act of construction’

My cousin, when working as a chippy on a Stirling Prize shortlisted scheme, declared to the foreman in relation to an apparently unbuildable detail, ‘if that works, I’ll eat my hard hat’.  It didn’t work, the hard hat was not ingested and the resulting variation caused the usual delays, costs and disputes that could so easily have been avoided.

I’m not about to launch into a university bashing session but my preoccupation with building and construction at architecture school, particularly as an undergraduate, was often suppressed by the commonly encouraged interrogation of more academic areas of study.  phnomonology, corporeal metaphor, city as semilattice… All valid and important but not necessarily immediately pertinent when faced with a builder trying drill a hole 2mm from the edge of a glazed balustrade in accordance with the drawing of an architect who is unfamiliar with the basic properties of glass. 

As a part time university design tutor I am staggered that following three years ofarchitectural education I’m hearing comments such as ‘my walls are made of insulated brick’ and ‘what is the difference between structure and building?’ only fractionally better perhaps than a recent reality TV star asking in all seriousness, ‘is tuna chicken or fish?’

In seven years of training I refuse to believe that six months cannot be spared for some ‘hands on’ experience.  This is far from suggesting that all aspiring architects should seize a trowel and start franticly laying bricks but there must be a way of ensuring that architectural students do not emerge from their second degree sometimes having never set foot on a building site.

All is not doom and gloom however and there are many contradictory examples some of which I have experienced myself during joyful moments of shared vision on site between all members of design and construction team.  Perhaps however there should always be a place for letting off steam in any work place and who better to vent on than the bloody architect.


henry goss